Category Archives: Picture book

Yaseen’s Big Dream by Umm Juwariyah illustrated by Azra Momin

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Yaseen’s Big Dream by Umm Juwariyah illustrated by Azra Momin

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Kids love to stretch their imagination and do the impossible, but for Yaseen Muhammad, his dreams at night are his favorite activity to see just how far his abilities can go.  In this 21 page paperback 8.5 x 8.5 square book, Yaseen Muhammad will imagine his best day ever as the President of the United States and share with kids 1st through 3rd grade exactly what he will make happen, inshaAllah, when he wakes up.

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In a very busy day as the first kid president, Yaseen Muhammad dreams of starting the day leading morning prayer in the Oval Office, and then getting his family to help him prepare a special lunch for everyone in every state.  He’ll visit schools all over America and play celebrity basketball with his cousin and vice President Jameelah. He’s Jedda will teach people to start their own gardens, and he’ll give a speech on TV, after all why not, “Nothing is Impossible.”

The pictures are lively and descriptive that the reader and listeners will enjoy looking at them.  The characters are visibly Muslim as the women wear hijab, and in the text it mentions the characters praying, and Yaseen Muhammad dreaming he is the imam.  There is a lot of text on the pages, but the story flows and the information serves a purpose in establishing who Yaseen Muhammad is and connecting him and his dream to the readers.  The text is uniformly on the right with the pictures on the left making the book very convenient if sharing during story time and you are like me and hold the book in your left hand when reading to a group.

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The only thing that struck me as off, was in the illustration of Jameelah and Yaseen playing basketball. Yaseen’s t-shirt has a Y on it and Jameelas an F. Not a J for Jameelah or a Y signaling they are on the same team.  It is minor, but all my kids noticed it too and wondered why.  

A couple of places I stumbled over some of the grammar and wording, but after reading it aloud a hundred times (exaggeration, slightly) to figure out why, I don’t think anything is wrong, it is just a bit awkward, but it is probably me.  For example when Yaseen is speaking to the whole world on TV he says “Every kid can make a difference in your community, in your state, in your country, and even in the world. Dream Big.”  Seems like it should be, Every kid can make a difference in “their” community, in “their” state, no?

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Overall, a good empowering story for all children and one that highlights African American Muslims in text and illustrations.  A great book to have in rotation to encourage kids to dream, make the world better, and believe in themselves.  Alhumdulillah.

 

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The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard illustrated by Laura K. Horton

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The Gift of Ramadan by Rabiah York Lumbard illustrated by Laura K. Horton

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A new 32 page hard back Ramadan book that shows a little girls excitement isn’t enough to get her to abstain from food and drink for the whole long day of fasting, but that there are other ways to enjoy the gift of the blessed month.  A great book that shows how Ramadan is a month of growing and learning and sacrificing and coming together too.  Perfect for ages 4 and up to be read in small groups or at bedtime.  The pictures are delightful and show diversity, and while the little girls love of sparkles might appeal more to little girls, I think the message will allow boys to enjoy and benefit from the book as well.

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Sophia is helping her family decorate for Ramadan and when they see the crescent moon, they know that fasting will start tomorrow.  Excited to be included Sophia can’t wait.  Sahoor, however, is really early and she is really tired.  She eats a little, but by fajr time she can’t even keep her eyes open and falls asleep in sajood.

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When she wakes up it is almost noon, and even though she is hungry she decides keeping busy will help the time pass.  Reading, cleaning, drawing, nothing is working.  Her little brother runs around waving a cookie, and Sophia can’t get away fast enough. 

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She caves and starts eating cookies, her grandma finds her and consoles her.  “There’s always tomorrow and the day after and the next.  You have a full month to keep trying.” The two then discuss other ways to enjoy the month.  Sophia knows her mom reads Quran, but Sophia can’t on her own.  Her father helps others and gives charity, but Sophia doesn’t have any money.  She is about to give up, but then sees her grandma’s hands covered in flour and realizes she can help her make iftar for those that are fasting.

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She helps with the salad and the pizzas for iftar, but when some of the pizzas burn, Sophia will have to show what she has learned and understood to make iftar a success and make everything sparkle.

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There are a lot of Ramadan books out there, but I like that this one doesn’t have the adults saying she can’t fast, but just the same grandma is there to encourage her to do what she can and take advantage of other parts of the month.  I also like that she doesn’t succeed.  Fasting especially on these long summer days can be hard and acknowledging that, and encouraging kids to persevere I think is a very valuable lesson.  Sophia also comes up with a way to help on her own.  Parents are tired and entertaining ways for the kids to be engaged in Ramadan is great, but can be exhausting.  This shows that kids with the right understanding of the month, inshaAllah can find ways on their own too.

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There is an Author’s Note at the end explaining Ramadan, and the book would work and appeal to Muslim and non Muslim kids alike.  Sophia reminds me a bit of Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy and will probably appeal most to kids that also like those characters. The grandma covers her head, the mom does not, but does when praying and reading Quran.  It mentions and shows praying and breaking one’s fast with water and dates, yet stays focused on the story and does not get preachy or dry.

 

Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

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Who Will Help Me Make Iftar by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Saliha Caliskan

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This sweet story shows how even when people refuse to help, we should treat them with kindness, as our actions should be to please Allah alone, and inshaAllah in real life, much like in the story, people will fix their ways and offer their help in return.  This new story reads very much like the old(er) favorite Nabeel’s New Pants, where everyone is too busy to help, but then come around to realizing that helping one another is a way to show people we care.  This 32 page 8.5 x 11 soft back story is well bound with large glossy pages and clear text.  The story works well for ages 4 and up, as they will understand the moral message and inshaAllah feel inspired to find ways to help as well.  

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It is a 40 year tradition that Mustafa Amce and his wife Ayse Teyze feed iftar to their friends and families on the first day of Ramadan.  This year, however, Ayse is not well and Mustafa is confident he can enlist the help of neighbors and family to help him keep the tradition alive. 

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Unfortunately, everyone has an excuse.  His daughter is tired, his grand daughter is too busy with her video games and his neighbor doesn’t want to get his new shirt dirty.  Their sad reasons don’t stop old Mustafa Amce, and he makes the salad, and cooks the rice and beef by himself.

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When iftar time arrives, he offers sweet dates to those at the masjid and invites everyone to come to his courtyard to break their fasts together.  All those that had early refused to assist him feel incredibly guilty and don’t want to take advantage of a lovely meal. Mustafa reminds them that, “God loves those who are generous especially to their families, neighbors, and guests.  and I always want Got to love me.” So they join in the delicious meal.

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After food Ayse Teyze shows that while she might be ill, she can still save the day when her husband realizes he has forgotten to prepare dessert.  The guests then offer to wash the dishes and sweep the floor and take the leftovers to the poor.  And best of all when the athan for isha prayer calls out they all without prompting stand to join Mustafa Amce in praying salat together.

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The names are Turkish with a pronunciation guide at the end, as well as a paragraph about Ramadan.  The book would work for non Muslims and Muslims alike as the story is set in Ramadan, but more about coming together to help out.  The illustrations are large and detailed and descriptive.  You see the warmth between Mustafa and his wife as well as the apologetic feelings from those that were unwilling to help. 

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The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

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This 37 page culturally Pakistani Ramadan story is super sweet and fun.  There is so much I feel like my critical self should not like about the story, but by about page 15 each time I read it, I find my self full on smiling and thoroughly enjoying little Raza’s antics and his endearing grandma’s method for dealing with him.

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Raza is too young to fast, but with a house full of relatives gathered for Ramadan, Raza awakens to the sound of his uncle snoring before the siren to signal the start of fasting and the azan calling the worshippers to pray echo through Lahore.  Before he can go back to sleep, however, he hears the cook heading up the stairs to wake up grandma and then the smell of the food hits him and he wants a paratha more than anything.

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Raza embarks on a mission that involves him sneaking up to the roof, pretending to be a jinni and scaring Amina the cook through the chimney to convince her to send up food and a blanket.  

Scared out of her wits, Amina gets the grandma, culturally wards off evil, and delivers the goods to the jinni on the roof.  But the joke is on Raza who is out-witted by his grandma and gets the punishment of washing dishes for the rest of Ramadan, and learning that fasting a whole day will take a lot of will power, if he couldn’t even wait a few hours to get his beloved parathas.

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The book informs the reader that the following year Raza is able to successfully fast, that he is rewarded with gifts and that all is well and forgiven.  There is a glossary, information about Ramadan and a recipe at the end of the story as well.

I love that the plan just happens, it isn’t premeditated or considered, so it takes the reader along for the ride as it is unfolding.  It isn’t a deep story, but there is room for discussion as to whether Raza was naughty, or just caught up in the moment.

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The book is illustrated well and with big 8.5 x 11 pages, the book is engaging for first and second grade readers and listeners, as there is a lot of text on the pages.  The book takes a bit to find its stride as the author tries to use Urdu words, show their Arabic counterparts and then describe them in English. 

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There is a lot of cultural stage setting with everyone in grandmas house, the traditions of the family, of Ramadan, etc.  I think Desi familiar kids will get the most out of the book, but theoretically Muslim kids and non Muslims too could learn and enjoy it too.  I wish jinn and jinni were explained just a bit in the text, not just in the glossary, along with why an 8 year old wouldn’t be fasting or be required to do so. 

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My own kids, aged 8, 9, and 12, struggled on the first two pages, but when I told them to keep reading they zoomed through the rest smiling and ended saying it was good while giggling and shaking their heads.  We are Pakistani American and I think they enjoyed seeing familiar words and phrases in the book and sympathizing with Raza as well, and his sneaky plan that almost nearly worked.

 

Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman illustrated by Sue Williams

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Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman illustrated by Sue Williams

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I’ve been reading this book to groups of children for years, and how I’ve managed to not post a review is beyond me, but alas, this sweet book is perfect for preschool to kindergartners and works great at story time or bedtime with its sparse words, comforting illustrations, and predictable refrain that makes the book read like a lullaby.

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The book gives glimpses of emotions felt during Ramadan and activities participated in, but in very toddler friendly way.  With between 10-15 words on each two page spread, the lyrical words paint pictures of families worshipping together, laughing together, eating together, helping the needy and working on being kind.  

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It mentions Quran, but no other Arabic specific words are mentioned, and it is through the pictures that it shows how Muslims pray.  Some of the women are in hijab, some are not.  At the end of the book is a full page with information about the blessed month of Ramadan, but the vagueness of Ramadan and Islamic requirements keeps the book open to both Muslim and non Muslim readers, and allows the feeling of Ramadan to permeate the few details given in a rich and soothing manner.

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The 8 x 10 size and 24 full color glossy pages make this book a regular during the month and a great choice to repeatedly curl up with your little ones and enjoy, alhumdulillah.

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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Jen Hill

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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Jen Hill

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I usually post chapter books on Fridays, but on this one week anniversary of the horrific Mosque attacks in New Zealand, my fragile heart is being kept together by the pictures and notes shared on social media about the kindness people are bestowing on one another.  Company’s setting up prayer spaces for Muslim employees, communities standing guard outside masjids, friends leaving flowers for their Muslim acquaintances, strangers donning hijabs in solidarity, individuals carrying signs of welcome and unity, truly the list goes on and on.  Muslims and non-Muslims reaching out to one another, Kiwis and the rest of the world coming together.  And yet I know so many people are at a loss at what to do, and how to respond to their feelings in an appropriate manner.  I know I often am.  Thats why books like this one are so important for children to learn how to be kind.  We often tell them to be nice or kind, but what does that mean? What does that look like? How do we know if it worked? As adults we often don’t know, so while this book isn’t written or illustrated by a Muslim, there are Muslims in it, and that is why after seeing another blogger a few weeks ago mention it, I want to share it with all of you.  The illustrations show a little girl saying hi to a desi garbed man named Omar, and two hijab clad girls in her view of the world, amongst so many other diverse faces and characters, because that’s the point right? We are one, each of us responsible to one another to be kind.  

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The book starts off with Tanisha spilling grape juice all over her new dress and a classmate being at a loss as to how to console her.  She makes what she thinks is a reassuring comment to Tanisha, but it isn’t received that way, and the little girl ponders and reevaluates what it will take to be kind to Tanisha and what kindness is in general.

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As she works to unravel what kindness is, she explores also what it can look like.  I love that it is seen in terms of action, giving ideas to stay with the reader.  It discusses that sometimes it is easy like saying hello, or not littering, and how important just using a persons name can make someone feel.

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But, it also talks about how sometimes kindness can be hard, requiring patience and a little bravery. I can only imagine how brave people had to be to enter a mosque for the first time and step out of their comfort zones to offer their support.  

The book then takes an important pause when it acknowledges that maybe all this little girl can do to help Tanisha is to sit by her.  I think Muslims around the world are in awe of the Prime Minister of New Zealand for all she is doing, but also for just showing up and hugging people and listening.  A rare gift in todays wold of soundbites.  

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The little girl then imagines her small acts of kindness joining others and making the world a better place.  My favorite part is actually the end.  Tanisha never smiles and tells the little girl thank you, there is no big praise for being kind.  In fact, I bet the little girl doesn’t even know the power her actions had on the little girl.  We the reader know because we see Tanisha hanging the picture up in her room.  But, that let down is real life.  We can’t be kind because of the reward, we must learn to be kind because it is the right thing to do.  And often when people are kind to us, the effect isn’t instantaneous, its weight manifests in the dark when we are looking for hope and reassurance and for this book to contain all of that, in 32 pages with only few words (AR 2.2) is truly amazing.

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The illustrations are gorgeous and engaging.  The hardback 9×10 format makes this book a great addition to any library and should be read regularly.  It isn’t enough to not be mean, action and intention need to be taught so that we all might be more kind, inshaAllah.

 

Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Amir Doumy

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Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie by Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins illustrated by Amir Doumy

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Oh, how glorious to learn something new while having things you know presented so well at the same time.  In 42 pages the reader will feel all the excitement of Eid (it doesn’t specify which one, nor does it really matter), sharing your culture with your classmates, participating in a family tradition, cooking with your grandfather, sharing with neighbors, and learning some life lessons about diversity from the Quran.  Ages 5 and up will enjoy the story and seeing Eid being celebrated, and older kids that know about Eid will love learning about bean pies and appreciate the African American Muslim culture, if they don’t already know about it, and those that do will hopefully feel proud to see it represented.  The best part is that there is a recipe at the end, that I can’t wait to try.

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It is the end of the school day and the teacher is reminding the students that Monday is Culture Day and they need to bring a dish to share, over the weekend it is also Eid.  Bashirah is excited that this is the first year she will get to make her own bean Pie with her Pop-pop who is going to teach her the family recipe.

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At home Bashirah can’t stay still as her mom puts on the finishing touches of her Eid outfit, she is so excited for all the fun about to happen.

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Early the next morning the family all heads out to the Masjid for Eid Salat in their beautiful clothes.

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After prayers its cooking and eating time as Bashirah and Pop-pop make the pies and enjoy a big meal as a family.  Three generations make salat together, food is taken to the neighbors, and then the big reveal.  All the desserts, including Bashirah’s are served, and alhumdulillah it is delicious!

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Back at school on Monday the teacher reminds them all that, “neither our languages or heritages make us better than anyone else.  Allah looks at our good deeds.” She quotes Surah Hujurat, ayat 13 “Oh, mankind indeed we have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.  Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah (swt) is the best in conduct.” And they all dive in to the delicious desserts including Bashirah’s wonderful pie.

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My only criticisms of the book are the margins and the amount of text on the pages.  I have a hard time reading the book aloud to small groups as the margins are so small and run in to the binding.  Also, some pages have one sentence on them, some have nearly a half a page of text.  This disparity can be off putting at the start of the book to appeal to younger listeners and early readers.

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The illustrations are warm watercolor complimentary pictures.  There is nothing wrong with them, but I wish they were just a tad more defined and vibrant like the picture on the cover.  I love the warmth they radiate, but a little more detail would give the listeners something more to look at on the text heavy pages.

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All in all a great book that I am glad I own and can share with my own children and those in my community, now if I can convince someone to make me a bean pie I’ll really be set, alhumdulillah!